In Another Universe

by Anna Young

Sidney Gonzales gets into Harvard, and the rest of us don’t. It’s kind of what I figured would happen.

I’m still pissed. I climb up into the old abandoned treehouse just after sunset, and I’m glad to see Finley sprawled out on the splintery floor. Someone needs to hear me vent.

He holds a mostly-dead joint up to me and I take an angry puff, hand it back. I can feel the smoke heating up my skull. “Rough day?” Finley asks, grinding the roach into a deep burn mark in the gray wood wall.

“More like rough fucking life,” I say. “Sidney got into Harvard.”

“So?” he asks, sitting up.

“So?” I pace the eight feet along the wall, past the rugged square hole that serves as a window to the blackening world outside. “So she made it in. We’re never going to hear the end of it. ‘Sidney got into Harvard,’ ‘Sidney got into Harvard,’ ‘Hey, didja hear—’”

“Sidney got into Harvard?” Finley finishes dryly.

“Every fucking class. Every fucking teacher. They’ll all point it out for the rest of the year.” My brain feels close to bursting out of my ears. I sit down in a scratchy corner, rub my temples. “Jesus. You got any ibuprofen?”

In response, Finley procures a fresh joint from his pocket and struggles to get it going with his ancient purple lighter. He takes a hit, scooches across the floor to hand it to me. My hands are so cold I almost drop the thing.

“And you know what she wrote her entrance essay about?” I say, smoke and fog pouring from my mouth in equal measure. My eyes sting. “The struggles of minority students in Ivy League schools.”

Finley swivels to dangle his leg through the trapdoor in the floor. “Cool.”

“No, not cool!” I take another deep pull before practically shoving the joint into Finley’s fingerless-gloved hand. “Gonzales is her stepdad’s last name. She’s not even Mexican! Her last name was Jones in middle school. Goddamn Jones!”

I can just see Finley’s silhouette now. He shrugs. “Isn’t she, like, an eighth Cherokee or something?”

“Everyone says that, Finley, but literally no one is. Sidney is whiter than a vanilla creamer in a suburban IHOP.”

Finley reaches sideways across the floor. He snags the three-wick candle sitting in the corner opposite of me. Dancing Winter Spruce. I got it for the treehouse because the place always smells like ass.

Now that I’ve sat down, the cold starts to seep into my wrists. “God, I hate spring,” I say, rubbing my hands together as he lights the candle.

The wavering light distorts Finley’s features, his dark eyebrows and straight nose. He stares into the flames. “There’s a universe where it isn’t spring right now,” he says.

I snort. “Yeah, it’s called Australia.”

He sets the candle down. “No, but like, an alternate universe. A different Earth. There’s a universe where spring never happens.”

“Great,” I say, “that means there’s a universe where Sidney doesn’t get into Harvard.”

“Right,” Finley says. “There’s a universe like that, and there’s one where you get into Harvard instead—”

“Fat chance.”

“—and a universe where Harvard doesn’t even exist.”

“Wow,” I snipe, “that means there’s a universe where this imaginary shit matters.”

Finley goes quiet. His distorted eyebrows sink sadly. Even through the weed haze I feel a little guilty.

I cough. Look down. “There’s probably a universe where I’m not a total asshole,” I venture, hauling up the zipper on my fleece jacket.

Finley scoffs. His legs swing back and forth in the dark, occasionally kicking the ladder with a hollow thwock. “I don’t know about that.”

“In the universe without spring,” I say, “do the trees put out buds after winter? Or do they just shoot back to life in the summer? Like, one day they’re just sickly branches, the next day there are these huge crowns of leaves?”

“I don’t know, Caroline,” he says, still moping. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter.”

Damn. I broke Finley. It’s been easy to do, these days. “You hear back from anywhere yet?” I ask.

He shakes his head, a wisp of a shadow among shadows.

“Ah. Well. You’ll get in somewhere. You’re smart.”

“No, I’m not.” He drums his fingers on the wood at the edge of the trapdoor. “You’re smart. You’ve got a full ride to UM.”

“That’s nowhere,” I say.

“It’s somewhere,” he insists. “I’m still waiting to hear back from community college.”

He clambers up, brushes the wood dust from his hands, puts out the joint half that’s been smoldering in his hands the past few minutes. Then he crouches again to reach for the ladder.

“There’s a universe where we stay in this treehouse for a while,” I say quickly. My mind feels bogged down and soupy. I watch the beginnings of stars lurch and shift through the window-hole.

Finley pauses, one leg stretched down into the dark, the other bent up by his chest.

“No colleges. No high school. But there is a spring. It’s cold as shit.”

He climbs back up. Sits down cross-legged, his back to the wall on my right. “Are you happy in that universe?”

“I don’t know,” I say. The stars leave faint tracers as I look away from the window. “I’m alright, though.”

I blow on my stiff knuckles as Finley snaps his lighter, trying to rekindle the joint stub. The candle still flickers. A wave of spicy pine scent wafts over us, fades.

“I think I’d be pretty okay in that universe, too,” Finley says. “As long as the Caroline there didn’t complain about Sidney getting into Harvard ever again.”

I balance my chin on one hand. “Oh, she’s going to keep complaining in every universe.” I sniffle, curl my frozen toes in my purple high tops. Look at the stars again. “But I think, in this universe, I can hold off until tomorrow.”

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